“So you weren’t planning on saying goodbye then?”
Stiles watches Derek turn towards him as the words he just spoke seem to echo in the loft. Derek’s holding a gray sweater, his knuckles white as his grip tightens on the fabric. It’s the first time Stiles has seen him since Mexico, since he forced himself to walk away to save Scott, since he realized that his feelings for Derek are a lot more complicated than he originally believed, since he thought Derek was dying. No, not dying. Dead. He’d thought Derek was dead. And he drops by, needing to see for himself that Derek’s really safe and alive, only to find him packing his stuff and getting ready to leave.
“I’m going to take this box out to the car,” Braeden says, her voice soft in the silence. She squeezes Derek’s shoulder as she moves past him, stopping to look at Stiles on her way out. The smile she gives him is almost too gentle, a contradiction to her usual nature, and she nods at him before continuing to the door.
It’s true then. Derek really is leaving, and he obviously didn’t intend to tell anyone or say goodbye. Stiles isn’t sure why that hurts so much, but it does.
“I’m going with Braeden.” Derek finally speaks, barely above a whisper. “I don’t really like goodbyes.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t like people leaving without telling me so whatever.” Stiles runs his fingers through his hair, feeling twitchy and restless as he stares at Derek.
“I don’t want to tell you goodbye, Stiles. Goodbyes are final, and this isn’t the end.” Derek shrugs a shoulder. “I’ll be back.”
“Well, Derek, I have to say that it feels kind of like an end to me.” Stiles takes a step forward then stops. “I’m glad you’re still alive. I thought you weren’t going to make it, back in Mexico. That felt even more final, you know?”
“I died,” Derek admits, still talking in that soft, almost hesitant, voice. “But I evolved. Not an end, just a new beginning.”
Stiles nods slowly. “That’s why you have to leave, isn’t it? To start over now that you’ve faced death and survived?” He swallows and ducks his head, idly noticing that he’s picking on a loose thread that’s hanging off his plaid shirt. He wraps the string around his finger, needing to do something with his hands as he processes all of this. “Your new beginning involves Braeden and getting the hell out of Beacon Hills, I guess.”
“It’s time for me to heal, to move on,” Derek explains quietly as he steps closer to Stiles. “I can’t get any better if I stay here, Stiles. But I’ll be back.”
“Yeah, sure. I get it. I mean, I understand wanting to leave this fucked up town and escape the bad memories.” Stiles shifts his weight from one foot to the other, his fingers twitching and curling into his palms. He smiles wryly. “Good luck, Derek. I hope you find what you need.”
Derek moves his right hand, raising it up like he’s going to touch Stiles, the sweater still held tightly in his left hand. Stiles’ breath catches, and he bites the inside of his cheek, watching Derek’s face intently. At the last moment, Derek seems to realize what he’s doing and drops his arm down. “I do, too,” he whispers, clearing his throat. “I’m too broken to be any good for anyone right now. I do mean it, though, Stiles. I’ll come back eventually.”
“I think we’re all a little broken, aren’t we?” Stiles huffs a laugh. “Side effect of being in the know about the whole supernatural thing. Anyway, I’d better go. Places to be, people to see. You know how it is. Take care of yourself, alright?”
“I’ll do my best.” Derek smiles slightly, barely a twist of his lips. “You take care, too, okay?”
“I will. I’ll take care of Scott and the others, too,” Stiles promises. “I guess this is it then.” He hesitates for a moment before he steps forward and kisses Derek’s jaw, his lips pressing against the bearded skin. Then he hurries away, his heart racing, and his eyes stinging. He’s only just realized he might have feelings for Derek, of the confusing and complex variety, but it’s too late. That’s just his luck. He’d laugh if he didn’t feel like crying. When he reaches the door of the loft, he looks back at Derek and forces a smile. “Goodbye. Be safe.”
“Not goodbye.” Derek shakes his head, dropping the hand that’s been touching his cheek when he sees Stiles look at him. “Until we meet again, Stiles.”
Stiles stares for a moment before he reluctantly nods. “Until we meet again, Derek.” Then he turns and walks out of the loft. He doesn’t bother with the elevator, taking the stairs two at a time because he needs to get away before all of this really hits him.
Braeden’s waiting downstairs, and she just looks at him when he rushes out of the building. “Keep in touch, got it?” She doesn’t phrase it like a question at all as she shoves the end of an envelope at him. He takes it and sees her name and phone number listed.
“Sure, I’ll text you,” he says, shoving the paper into his pocket. Looking back at her, he sighs. “Keep him safe, got it?”
“I will.” Braeden squeezes his shoulder before she goes back into the building.
It takes him a moment to collect his thoughts. When he’s ready, he walks over to Roscoe and gets in. After taking one last look up at Derek’s building, Stiles drives away.
The going away party is pretty crazy.
There are people who graduated with him that Stiles can’t even remember ever speaking to, and he hasn’t even seen any of his friends in ages because of the large crowd of people. When Lydia suggested throwing him a party the night before his flight leaves for New York City, he’d agreed because he thought it would be something smaller, more intimate, not this mess of people that makes him feel anxious. He really doesn’t like huge parties like this, at all.
It takes time, but he finally manages to get to the back door. The fresh air is a welcome relief after the claustrophobic feel of the crowded house. He takes several deep breaths before he walks away from the house, wanting to get away from the noise and loud music for a few minutes. When he reaches the group of trees with twinkling lights covering the branches, he sits on the ground by one, leaning back against the trunk. The summer has gone so fast, and he still finds it hard to believe that he’s leaving town tomorrow.
“So you weren’t planning on saying goodbye then?”
The whispered words startle him. Stiles jerks slightly, turning his head to find Derek standing there. He’s only been back in town since graduation, showing up at the ceremony out of the blue, surprising the pack completely. He looks good, comfortable in his own skin, softer in many ways, without all the sharp edges that used to be there. It’s been easy to avoid him during the last two months; working full-time and spending as much time as possible with his dad and Scott has kept Stiles’ days really filled. There’s still an odd tension between the two of them that makes Stiles’ feel restless and emotionally mixed up, so it’s better to avoid that than confront it when he’s planning to go away for college for four years.
“Goodbye is too final, remember?” Stiles’ lips quirk as he watches Derek sit on the ground and lean against the tree opposite him. There’s enough room between the trees for their legs to be straight in front of them, their feet almost touching. “How long are you staying in Beacon Hills?”
“I’m thinking about maybe buying a house,” Derek tells him quietly. “It’s time to put down roots, and Beacon Hills is home.”
“Really? I thought you were probably just visiting.” Stiles wonders if self-preservation has been the wisest choice instead of trying to spend time with Derek while he had the opportunity. Too late now. Besides, he thinks it would be more difficult to get on that plane tomorrow if he were leaving behind a ‘confirmed possibility’ instead of a ‘hasn’t happened’. Whoever said it’s better to have love and lost is a fucking fool. Not that Stiles loves Derek, but he thinks he could potentially get there in time. “So you want to buy a house and settle down. Are you thinking about getting a job or just planning to be a man of leisure?”
“I’ve been talking to your father, actually. He wants me to go to the academy and join the sheriff’s department.” Derek looks at him and shrugs his broad shoulder. “He seems to think I have the potential to be a good cop.”
“Really?” Stiles’ smile is genuine as he nods. “I’d have to agree with him. I think you’d be awesome. You have that natural instinct for taking care of people, plus your wolfy senses would be a benefit. You’d also look good in a uniform, but that’s a purely aesthetic benefit for everyone else.”
“Well, I guess I’ll look into it then. Not that I care about the uniform, but the rest of that is downright complimentary.” Derek moves his foot, bumping it against Stiles’. “When does your flight leave?”
“Ugh. Six in the morning. It was the cheapest fare to NYC, and I’ll be flying into JFK after making a connection in Chicago.” Stiles looks back at the house then focuses on Derek. “This going away party should have happened last weekend, but tonight’s the only night everyone was free. I took a nap earlier so I can just stay up and go to the airport after the party. I’ll doze on the flights probably.”
“I’m proud of you,” Derek says, voice soft and affectionate. “A scholarship to NYU is amazing for any normal student, but it’s even more so for someone who spent most of his high school career fighting villains and helping keep the town safe.”
“Eh. It’s not a full ride, but it’s a hell of a lot more than anywhere else offered,” Stiles says, feeling warmth in his cheeks as Derek compliments him. “I honestly didn’t plan to accept it, but my dad had a talk with me, and I realized it was okay to go, to be selfish for once, so I’m doing it. It’s too good an opportunity to refuse, and I might be able to get more scholarships for next year to cut the cost of loans and all.”
“It’s a really good school. I knew people who were students there, and they were all clever and brilliant like you, so you’ll fit in well.” Derek’s fingers are stroking back and forth against his upper thighs as he looks at Stiles. “Do you know what you’re majoring in yet?”
“I’m leaning towards Psychology,” Stiles admits. “I’ve always planned to become a cop, but their psychology program is highly rated, so I thought I’d major in that since it’s always beneficial to know about people and what makes us tick regardless of my future career choice. Plus, if I did decide to go to grad school instead of going to the academy, I could possibly be a supernatural aware therapist, which I thought would be a great thing for a lot of people out there.”
Derek studies his face, which is bathed in the lights hanging from the trees as decorations. “Four years might seem like a long time, but it really isn’t that bad. However, New York City is a long way from Beacon Hills.”
“I know.” Stiles bumps Derek’s foot this time. “I’m nervous about leaving my dad for that long, being so far away from my pack, but a wise man once told me that sometimes we need to get away so we can heal and not be so broken anymore.”
“Wise, huh?” Derek snorts and smiles wryly. “It’s good advice, though. Getting away from this town does help. I’ll keep an eye on your dad, make sure the pack is safe. Don’t worry about them, alright?”
“Okay.” Stiles runs his fingers through his hair before he sighs. “You know, I wonder if we’re ever going to have the right timing.”
“Who knows?” Derek shrugs, automatically knowing what Stiles is asking, what he means, and that lets Stiles know that it isn’t one-sided. That Derek feels something, too. “I’d like to think that one day we will, though.”
“I’d like to think that, too,” he admits, voice barely above a whisper but he knows Derek can hear him. “Four years will pass quickly.”
“Yes, it will.” Derek nods. “You should just enjoy yourself, Stiles. You deserve to have fun while you’re studying. Forget about this town and be a normal college student, if you can.”
“I doubt that’s possible,” he points out, kicking at Derek’s foot lightly. “But I’ll try. High school certainly didn’t turn out to be the expected experience, but maybe college will be more traditional, in a sense.”
“My words of wisdom, or advice, whatever. Don’t get drunk the night before a test. Have safe sex, never let anyone pressure you into not using condoms or taking precautions. Don’t go to anyone’s room or apartment if you don’t feel know if you can trust them completely. If a partner is drunk, they can’t consent so don’t get naked. And don’t be with anyone who tries to make you do anything if you’re the one who is drunk,” Derek tells him, not looking away from him as he talks. He stops for a moment before he takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly as he stares into Stiles’ eyes. “Let yourself be open to falling in love, let yourself have one night stands, explore your sexuality with people you’re attracted to, don’t worry about being judged or what anyone might think about it.”
“Telling me to sleep around but always use condoms isn’t exactly the advice I expected to receive from you,” Stiles murmurs, feeling a slight tightening his chest as he thinks about Derek giving him permission to be young and stupid while he’s at college, and to have sex with other people and not worry about Derek judging him for it.
“I like to be unpredictable sometimes.” Derek smiles slightly. “You’re young, and you need to experience life before you’ll really be able to know what will truly make you happy.”
“What if I already know?” Stiles licks his lips and just stares at Derek, who looks beautiful cast in shadows from the moonlight and twinkling lights in the trees overhead.
Derek sighs. “I’m not going anywhere, Stiles. I’m back for good, and I’ll be here if you still feel the same in four years.”
“You can’t know that. You’ve told me to go out and fall in love. What if you do the same?” Stiles shakes his head. “No, forget I said that. This connection between us, it gives me no rights over you or your life.”
“I’ll stay in touch, while you’re gone.” Derek ducks his head and rubs the back of his neck. “But you’re right. Just because there’s something between us, it doesn’t give us any rights over each other.”
“Long-distance works for some people.” Stiles clears his throat and smiles wryly when Derek just looks up at him. “I know. We aren’t some people.”
“You still feel broken,” Derek says gently. “Until you feel like you’ve healed, you aren’t going to be ready for anything serious.”
“I know.” Stiles rubs his hands over his face. “It’s getting late. I probably need to go back to my party and make rounds so I can tell my friends goodnight. Scotty’s driving me to the airport, but Dad’s going to meet us there.”
Derek watches him stand up but doesn’t move from where he’s sitting. Stiles walks over to him, reaching down to offer his hand to help him up. Derek moves to his knees, reaching for Stiles and just hugging him, the side of his face against Stiles’ belly. “Good luck, Stiles. I hope you find what you need,” he whispers before he presses his lips against the bare skin above Stiles’ jeans, which are riding low on his hips. Derek’s lips are damp, like he’s just wet them, and they’re chapped, slightly rough as Derek kisses his hip lightly. He tightens his grip on Stiles for a moment, mouth still pressed against Stiles’ hip.
“I do, too,” Stiles echoes the words Derek said to him over a year ago. He hesitantly moves his fingers into Derek’s hair, stroking his scalp as Derek’s beard scratches against his skin. “Don’t forget me while I’m gone.”
“That isn’t even possible. I could never forget you.” Derek lets go, leaning against the tree and looking up at him. “Take care of yourself, Stiles.”
Stiles twists his lips into a crooked smile. “I always try to,” he says. “Good luck with the academy. I want pictures of you in your uniform, alright? Also, you’d better take care of yourself or else.”
Derek huffs a laugh. “I’ll do my best.” He stands up and looks into Stiles’ eyes. “Until next time, Stiles.”
Impulsively, Stiles kisses Derek’s cheek, closing his eyes as he fights back emotions that feel a little too overwhelming. “Until next time, Derek,” he whispers, hurrying away towards the house where the party is still going strong. He takes one last look back at Derek, trying to memorize everything about him, then he walks away.
New York City is constantly busy. There’s a frenetic energy that takes time getting used to, but Stiles is nothing if not adaptable. Four years at NYU becomes three when he manages to finish his bachelor’s early by taking summer classes. The Social Psychology PhD program is so tempting, several of his professors are encouraging him to accept admission into the program because he applied on a whim and received confirmation of an offer right before graduation. His advisor pulled some strings to notify him early, he suspects, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a five year program, and Stiles is ready to go home. He feels more confident now, more aware of who he is and what he wants, has reconciled his past trauma with the Nogitsune and the death that’s been part of his life since he was fifteen, and he likes the man he’s become while he’s been in NYC. He misses his dad, he misses his pack, and, mostly, he misses Derek.
There have been visits home during Christmas and Spring Break every year since he left for school, but he’s spent his summers on campus trying to finish his degree early. He loves psychology, is adept at it in a way that surprises him, but five years is too long to make Derek wait. It’s already been three, and the feelings that used to scare him when he was a teenager don’t anymore. Stiles is ready to take the chance, to see if whatever this connection is between him and Derek can become something more meaningful and romantic.
Stiles has lived the typical college student life, drinking too much and going to frat parties and making friends who are going to be part of his life even when they go their separate ways into the world. He’s had sex with various people, gained the experience he’d lacked even after his relationship with Malia, and has even dated a few people semi-seriously until he realized it wasn’t fair for his partners when he realized midway through freshman year that his heart belongs to a grumpy werewolf in California. A smoking hot guy who might actually feel the same way about him, if the near constant Skype, texts, and phone calls in recent months are any indication.
Graduation was last week. Stiles is officially finished with university, and he’s already sent inquiries about the academy back home because it’s time to focus on establishing himself in the career he’s chosen. It isn’t necessarily his dream job, now that he’s had a taste of helping people work through their own traumas and reclaim their lives after tragedy, but it’s a really good second choice. His dad flew in for graduation, but he was only able to stay a couple of days before having to go back to Beacon Hills and the station. None of his other friends were able to make it since his graduation was right in the middle of finals for all of them or, in Derek’s case, he had to man the station while Dad was gone.
In a way, it’s all a little anti-climactic. He doesn’t really feel any different now that another major milestone in his life is finished. His rent is paid through August, the tiny studio apartment near the UN costing a ridiculous amount every month, but he’s been able to make money doing supernatural research on the side to help pay for stuff, so he doesn’t have to deal with roommates, at least. Since he’s got until August, there’s no real hurry to pack up and move home, even if he is ready to see Derek so they can have a pretty important, and serious, talk about their relationship. Stiles figures he’ll spend the next week or two exploring NYC while he’s got the chance, going places he hasn’t had an opportunity to visit, revisit his favorite locations, and just immerse himself in the vibrancy of the city before focusing on the trip back to Beacon Hills.
Ten minutes after he orders pizza from Ramona’s, there’s a knock on his door. That’s fast, even for his favorite pizzeria, but he isn’t going to complain. Stiles grabs a twenty out of his wallet and goes to answer the door. Instead of seeing Manny holding his steaming meat lover’s, he sees Derek standing there holding a suitcase.
“Uh, surprise?” Derek says, a crooked smile on his lips as he stands there staring at Stiles. He looks so good, even better than he had during spring break. His hair is a little longer, brushing against the nape of his neck, and his beard is less shaggy and very well trimmed.
“What are you doing here?” Stiles winces when he realizes that probably isn’t the best greeting. “I mean, yeah, definitely a surprise. Come in. Welcome to my tiny abode.”
“I couldn’t come for graduation, so I thought that better late than never was a good option,” Derek explains, still looking nervous and tense. He enters the apartment and looks around. “This isn’t bad at all. Cozy.”
Stiles snorts. “It’s one room with a bathroom so small I can barely turn around in it, and it costs more than renting a three bedroom house back home,” he points out. “But I have good neighbors, there are a ton of cheap delivery places around, and it’s convenient for getting to school.”
“Laura and I lived in Brooklyn,” Derek says, turning to face Stiles. “We could have afforded Manhattan, but we didn’t want to touch the insurance money, so we found a small place in Brighton Beach that suited us fine. It was right in the middle of a Russian mafia territory, but we kept to ourselves, and they left us alone. I left most our stuff there when I came after Laura, but none of that really mattered when she was gone.”
“I haven’t really explored Brooklyn that much,” Stiles admits, not mentioning Laura because it makes Derek sad. He shuts the door and walks over to sit on the edge of his bed. “Coney Island is pretty fun, though.”
“Is this weird, me showing up here?” Derek suddenly asks. He bites his lip as he looks at Stiles. “It’s just, I had to come see you. Your father told me about grad school, Stiles. Said you weren’t going to accept, and he didn’t understand why. But I suspect that I might know what’s making you choose Beacon Hills instead.”
“It’s not weird, just surprising.” Stiles swallows and taps his fingers against his thigh. “I told him I was ready to come home. I don’t know why he had to go blab to you about grad school.”
“Because I asked how you were, since I wasn’t able to come to graduation. Besides, your father knows how I feel,” Derek tells him, putting his suitcase down and rubbing the back of his neck. “About you. He knows how I feel about you.”
“Kind of funny that my dad knows but I don’t,” Stiles points out, looking up at Derek as he walks towards Stiles. “It would be five years, Derek. I’d be going straight into a PhD program, and there really isn’t much chance of getting done early, like I was able to do for my bachelor’s. Maybe you could wait another five years, but I can’t. I’ve already waited five anyway, and it sucked, even if I do understand that we both needed time to heal and figure out who we actually are before we could ever be ready for a relationship. I know who I am now, though, and I’m ready for you.”
“You know how I feel, Stiles. I might not have said the words, but I’ve shown you in every other way that I know,” Derek says, reaching out to stroke Stiles’ jaw with his knuckles. “Five years isn’t that long, especially not when it’s for something you absolutely love doing.”
“I’ll enjoy working as a deputy, too.” Stiles tilts his head, pressing his lips against Derek’s palm. “It’s too long for me, Der. I’m tired of only seeing you during holidays, of saying until we meet again when it’s just fancy words for goodbye, of worrying that you’ll meet someone who makes you forget about me. I want more, and I think we’re finally in a place where the timing is right.”
“Waiting isn’t the only option, you know?” Derek moves his fingers into Stiles’ hair, carding through the thick locks as he stares into Stiles’ eyes. “New York happens to have a rather large police department, and it just so happens they’re hiring. I’ve already submitted an application, so I hope I haven’t misjudged this or presumed too much.”
“Seriously?” Stiles blinks up at him. “You’re willing to relocate while I go to grad school?”
“I’d follow you to the ends of the earth, Stiles.” Derek makes a line that would probably sound cheesy if said by anyone else into a sincere statement of fact. “I’m tired of waiting, too. I’m sick of taking you to the airport and telling you goodbye every few months. I know it’s ridiculous, considering we’ve never even been on a date, but I love you.”
“Dating isn’t a precursor to love,” Stiles whispers, reaching out to tug Derek closer. He wraps his arms around Derek’s waist, remembering that night at his going away party when Derek had done the same to him. “I love you, too. I don’t need dates or sex to know how I feel.” Stiles tugs the hem of Derek’s shirt up, kissing his hip lightly, listening to Derek’s breath catch as he kisses a second time. Stiles pulls back, looking up at him and smiling. “But dates and sex are definitely things I’m looking forward to experiencing with you.”
Derek huffs a laugh, shaking his head as he pulls Stiles to his feet. “Me too,” he admits, stroking Stiles’ cheek before cradling his jaw.
Stiles leans up the couple of inches separating them and kisses Derek’s mouth, gripping his hip as he presses closer. Derek returns the kiss, moving his other hand to the small of Stiles’ back as they kiss almost chastely. It’s innocent, in a way, and Stiles thinks it’s the perfect first kiss. When Derek parts his lips, Stiles licks into his mouth, deepening the kiss. Derek’s hand drifts lower, squeezing his ass, and the kiss takes a decidedly naughty turn as they lick into each other’s mouths.
The sound of a knock on his door pulls them apart. Stiles stares at Derek, breathing hard and licking his lips. “That’s probably Manny with my pizza,” he murmurs, running a hand through his hair before he goes to open the door. It is Manny, and the pizza smells delicious. Stiles pays, telling him to keep the change, and then he locks the door behind him as he faces Derek. “Are you hungry?”
“God yes. Airplane food was awful.” Derek joins him at the small table he’s got between the kitchen and the living area. “It smells good.”
“It’s from my favorite place. They also make a delicious Stromboli and a meatball sub that’s killer.” Stiles grabs a couple of bottles of water from the fridge before sitting down. When Derek joins him, Stiles stares at him. “I can’t believe you’re really here, that you’re willing to move so I can go to school. You’re amazing, you know?”
“Far from it.” Derek snorts before he smiles. “I am really here, though, and I’m willing to do whatever is necessary to finally have you in my life. We’re both ready, and the timing is right, so I’m not letting something like relocating stand in my way.”
“Yeah, I think we’ve finally mastered the timing thing,” Stiles tells him, getting a slice of pizza and taking a bite. “I’d have been happy to come back home and join the department, you know? I wouldn’t have regretted it at all, not if it meant we could finally explore what’s been there between us practically from day one.”
“You might not have regretted it, but you’d enjoy going to grad school and being a therapist more than being a deputy,” Derek points out, and Stiles can’t deny that. “Anyway, I’d have regretted you giving up your dream when I had a way to make us both happy. It’s only five years, and we can move back to Beacon Hills when you’re finished. We’ll visit your dad and the pack throughout the year, too. This is going to be good, Stiles. We’ll have the time to really get to know each other, and the chance to work through those problems all relationships have especially in the beginning.”
“I am happy, by the way.” Stiles smiles at Derek. “It might have taken us years and too many goodbyes, but I’m glad we’re finally here, that we're finally together and happy. I really feel like this is where we’re supposed to be, Derek.”
“They weren’t goodbyes. Just 'until we meet agains',” Derek reminds him, grinning in a way that lights up his whole face. “But I’m glad we’re here, too, Stiles. I think you’re right, and I don’t care if it sounds corny or cliché. The two of us in a relationship and loving each other? This is how it’s meant to be.”